Updated: February 25, 2014 at 4:47 pm
Compassion International is fueling a nationwide campaign to pack theaters showing "Son of God" by providing free tickets to churches in 40 U.S. cities, including Colorado Springs and Denver. The feature film, a pared-down version of the History channel miniseries "The Bible," debuts on 3,000 screens Friday.
"Jesus has always been at the center of our ministry," said Mark Hanlon, senior vice president of global marketing and engagement for the Colorado Springs-based child sponsorship agency. "His life story is the greatest story ever told."
In the Springs, Compassion International provided 4,745 tickets to First Presbyterian and Woodmen Valley Chapel for showings at Cinemark Tinseltown USA and Hollywood Interquest Stadium 14. An additional 9,111 movie tickets went to four churches in the Denver area. The organization distributed 225,000 tickets nationwide.
"We provided these tickets as a gift to these churches so that they can use this opportunity to reach out to their communities," communications director Tim Glenn said. "We so believe in the message of this film that we wanted to empower and enable these churches to use it as an opportunity to spread the message of Jesus."
If the coordinated mobilization goes as planned, filling theater seats during the opening stretch isn't going to be a problem. Church leaders nationwide reportedly have purchased blocks of tickets - and, in some cases, bought out entire venues - for early, private showings of the film on the days before it officially opens to the public.
Televangelist Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston handed out 8,000 tickets provided by an anonymous donor; Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., which was founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell, distributed more than 12,000 tickets to students. Multiplexes in at least 10 cities plan to show the film on all screens Thursday night. There's even a website - sharesonofgod.com - packed with resources and tips for launching a successful "Son of God" theater coup or securing a private or early screening. Takeover organizers can earn perks such as movie memorabilia and a private dinner party with the filmmakers.
"It's very interesting to see this level of excitement around the movie," said James Meredith, vice president in charge of marketing and communications for Cinemark. "The interest level ... seems to be on par with that of major blockbuster, tent-pole or franchise movies."
Author and mega-church pastor Rick Warren has bought out screens at eight theaters in Orange County, Calif.
"I've seen most of the films about Jesus produced in the past 50 years, and 'Son of God' is the best," Warren said. "We're excited Jesus is back on the big screen, and we're going to fill the theaters. I want every other faith leader in America to do the same. Whether you can buy out a whole theater or just one screen, now is the time to show up."
Compassion International has partnered with LightWorkers Media, the production company of powerhouse couple Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, to promote the 2-hour, 18-minute film.
"Our hope is that people who see this movie will continue the work of Jesus by caring for children and the poor. One of the best ways to do this is to sponsor a child through Compassion," said Downey.
"Son of God" chronicles the life of Jesus, played by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado, from the Nativity through resurrection and revelation. It was distilled primarily from footage appearing in the original 10-hour miniseries that aired over five days last March.
"We've taken portions of the miniseries and many new scenes and we've reordered it, and I think it's absolutely fantastic, some of our best work ever," said executive producer Burnett in an August interview with The Gazette.
A private screening of the film held at The Broadmoor hotel in July provided Burnett early insight into its powerful effect on audiences.
"It was absolutely astounding the response we got," said Burnett, whose wife and fellow executive producer, Downey, plays Mary. "It literally went from applause to silence to tears."
"Son of God" garnered a PG-13 rating due to violent scenes and a bloody depiction of the crucifixion.
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364